LCSB Thomas Jefferson HS vote

From left, Loudoun County School Board members Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District), Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District), John Beatty (Catoctin District) and Beth Barts (Leesburg District) participate in the Jan. 14 vote regarding Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Reaser, who is a TJ parent, was the only representative to abstain.

At its first official public meeting Tuesday, the 2020-2023 Loudoun County School Board voted to reinstate bus transportation for Loudoun-based students at Alexandria's Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and to remove the 50-person cap on Loudoun ninth-graders entering the school next year.

The previous board during its May 28, 2019, meeting voted to extend Loudoun County Public Schools' contract with Fairfax County Public Schools that allows LCPS to keep sending students to the prestigious TJ. Chris Croll, the Catoctin District representative at the time, proposed the two amendments that would discontinue bus transportation and implement the enrollment cap. Both amendments were approved by 5-4 votes.

Jeff Morse, who chaired the previous board and still represents the Dulles District, opposed both of Croll's amendments and requested that information regarding the enrollment cap and transportation adjustments be added to Tuesday's information agenda.

Morse then moved to suspend the rules so the board might vote on whether to reverse the transportation and enrollment adjustments.

"The reason behind that is the time criticality in getting this information to Fairfax County so that they can adjust their approval of the incoming ninth graders," he said.

The motion, which required a two-thirds majority for approval, carried unanimously, with Leslee King (Broad Run District) participating via telephone.

After Morse moved to remove the enrollment cap and reinstate bus transportation for Loudoun students, several representatives commented in support of the move. Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) expressed his belief that affording Loudoun students ample access to Thomas Jefferson is a means by which to maximize their STEM education options.

"If our students, our children, have access to the No. 1 school in the country, why not?" he said. TJ is No. 4 in the U.S. News & World Report 2019 rankings of U.S. high schools.

"I've heard constant frustration from members of my community regarding the lack of seats at the Academies [of Loudoun]. A cap on TJ is simply going to make this worse," Beth Barts (Leesburg District) said. When Barts asked about the financial burden of reinstating bus transportation, Department of Support Services Assistant Superintendent Kevin Lewis said the yearly cost would be approximately $540,000.

While Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District) voiced her support for removing the enrollment cap, she said she would refrain from voting on the measure because one of her children attends TJ.

Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) called for the final vote, and the board approved the changes 8-0-1, with Reaser abstaining.

Though it's outside usual boardroom decorum, Sheridan allowed applause from satisfied spectators. "You can go ahead and clap that time, I don't mind," she said. "That was a big one."

(14) comments

Oldmanhere

Here is the problem I have with the AOL, while STEM is getting all the press and seems to be a hot button, NO ONE is talking about the vocational training that is offered there,we are as a county do a extreme disservice to our schools, and a LARGE number of students that can not enter a program because of lack of space. And the constant drive to expand the STEM component of the AOL are being done at the expense of the Vocational side. When you think of AOL be sure to consider the needs of the the Bricklayers, the Nurses, Firefighters, Welders and all the others.

applicant45554

I don’t understand why the parents of these children shouldn’t be required to pay the additional cost for TJ. I’m not crazy about taking potential money away from other students to pay for this.

amerigirl

Loudoun County pays the cost per student to attend, just like the cost per student in county. They would still need busing even if they went to school in county, so it is basically a little more gas. When my son was going there they gave them the an older bur that didn't have heat most of the time and broke down on a regular basis. The benefits to the students outweigh this by far. Having TJ on your resume is a plus that follows you for a long, long time. It is not an easy task and many kids, like my other son opt out of going because it is a long grueling day and severely cuts down on any free time. You will also find that many graduates from TJ give back to Loudoun after they graduate.

chrisnich

Do you think that all special ed parents should be forced to pay extra for their children's services, or just the parents of the gifted and talented students?

amerigirl

well that would be scary, one of my kids was both special ed and gifted. You are right, each child should be taught the best way possible and no 2 kids are the same.

BobOhneiserEsq

Now take the cap off the Academy of Science!

Chris McHale

Bob - How would you remove a cap on the academy? Isnt there limited space which would necessitate a self imposed enrollment cap? I'm not disagreeing with you but not sure what mandates the cap .

Virginia SGP

So Chris, that is a good question and it highlights the difference between the TJ and the AOL model.

Anyone who has experience in the advanced STEM universities can tell you that STEM students take a lot of courses with no need for labs or time-intensive hands-on research. Yes, in the upper level college courses, or for a few lower-level courses, labs are necessary. But before students can use labs, they need to understand the concepts. At TJ no class uses labs in grades 9-11. Only in the 12th grade do the labs/projects get extensively used. Let me repeat, students in grades 9-11 do not need those space-consuming, expensive, time-consuming labs.

But in contrast to every other model in the US, out know-it-all admins and SB members (none of whom have experience at a major STEM university) set out to build what they wanted. We have 9th or 10th graders stuck in tedious lab work. And we have limited space.

Nearly all the niche courses at TJ could be taught in LCPS schools online. Put the students in a class with a web connection and headphones, and you can locate the teacher at any school. The only limiting factor would be hiring a competent teacher as you will likely have to pay them more than the one-size-fits-all-be-it-PE-or-advanced-STEM pay scale. STEM graduates of UC Berkeley should earn more than a teacher of similar years in the system in a more commoditized subject.

In fact, I understand LCPS may already be outsourcing some of these courses to colleges for ACL students. I have heard that students in advanced math courses take it online via the University of Illinois. If so, why in the world can't students at any high school enroll in that course?

More courses. More choices. That is what students need. Instead of spending $110M on a castle for adults, use that money to build facilities for votech courses that do need physical equipment. Those are the courses that need the money.

And improve overall instruction in STEM by paying bonuses to hire better teachers. Ask students in an informal survey how many actually understood the concepts taught by their math teacher and how many needed to get tutoring from another teacher (either in the same school or externally). How can admins stand by when they have obvious evidence some teachers cannot teach their way out of a wet paper bag yet continue to give them huge raises year after year? That is immoral.

amerigirl

VA SGP, I disagree with your assessment of labs, if anything it is the opposite. I have paid enough lab fees to guarantee that one. When my son was in TJ there were labs every single year. It is like a specialty for them to have the hands-on learning and expect those students to make discoveries in those labs. Let me repeat, all the kids I have talked to who went to TJ or are currently attending TJ have labs starting in their freshman year. Some of their labs are not even on campus. They are not niche courses, not even close. I don’t know where you got your ideas about TJ from but they are not even close to factual. Many of the course are college level and fill requirements when transferred to colleges. Not all students are the same and you can’t expect an overachiever to sit around being bored in a less demanding environment. They deserve better and all students should be educated to their full potential.

amerigirl

I can't figure how they did that with TJ since they were already using trailers there.

Virginia SGP

Amerigirl, I took a tour this spring. Asked that question specifically. Except for possible AP labs that are available in all LCPS high schools, they specifically said labs were reserved for seniors. I questioned that given the ACL approach. They again confirmed it.

amerigirl

I'm wndering about that too. TJ takes over 70% of it's students from Fairfax, leaving less that 30% split between Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties and the City of Falls Church. They usually admit close to 500 a year in all.

marv

Intelligence prevailed - THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

amerigirl

Agreed! Any advantage to striving students is a good one.

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